Trade unions bringing legal aid and rights protection services to workers

Thanks to this voluntary support, trade unions have also succeeded in embedding legal aid services for migrant workers within law firms themselves on a reciprocal basis, with the directors of law firms concurrently holding a post in the trade union's legal aid centre; on this basis, with law firms taking on a significant number of legal aid cases for migrant workers, they become an important source of legal services for trade unions. The first of these was Beijing Zhicheng Public Interest Lawyers (see "honouring lawyers who stand up for workers' rights and interests" above). Then, in 2013, Qin Xiyan, a lawyer in Hunan, established the first Voluntary Law Services Team Collecting Unpaid Wages for Migrant Workers. Over the past ten years, it has succeeded in collecting wage arrears worth 210 million yuan (around US$ 34 million) on behalf of more than 20,000 migrant workers.

Lawyer volunteers have played a considerable part in tackling some of China's most socially significant labour dispute cases by making full use of their professional advantages to actively press for the application of the law. For example, in an occupational disease case in the Fangshan district of Beijing, volunteers helped 500 migrant workers secure a payout of more than 50 million yuan (US$ 8 million). Later, a further 1,000 migrant workers benefited to the tune of more than 100 million. The number of people involved, the compensation amounts received and the wider social implications of this case all constituted a new record for group occupational disease cases nationwide. In addition, both the administrative proceedings case which for the first time found that suicide should be treated as an occupational disease, and the labour dispute case in which compensation was awarded as an exemplary punishment for the employer whose company violated relevant laws, were undertaken by lawyer volunteers; these cases have stimulated wide social comment and brought publicity to trade unions's rights protection work.

Trade unions have also attracted professional talent by paying for services. In recent years, trade unions in various regions have expanded their sources of funds for the provision of legal aid and rights protection services to workers based on actual demand, purchased social services to satisfy worker demands, provided efficient and professional services and realized the principle of "aid for those who need it". For example, the Guangdong Federation of Trade Unions has signed agreements with over 1,400 lawyers since 2014 and dispatched them to enterprise trade unions to provide legal services for workers. Cities in Guangdong province have adopted this pattern, encouraging trade union councils to purchase social services and make full use of social lawyer resources to provide efficient and timely legal aid services for workers.

The legal service volunteer teams of trade unions of various regions have carried out a range of rights protection activities which are greatly welcomed by the public. These activities have various characteristics in common.

First, the legal aid service network covers all workers. This has been facilitated by the constant expansion in the numbers of rights protection and legal service volunteer teams, constituting a sound foundation for responding in a timely manner to workers's rights protection demands and providing them with professional legal services.

Second, the resources for trade unions's legal service platforms have been further integrated and optimized. The construction of legal service volunteer teams and legal aid centres has improved the service quality of workers's rights protection hotlines and online forums. By the end of 2014, trade unions at all levels had established 14,000 workers's legal aid and rights protection service centres across the country. During the year, these centres dealt with a total of 62,000 labour dispute cases. Some 80% of the cases for which the Jiangsu Federation of Trade Unions provided legal aid were handled by members from workers's legal aid law teams.

Third, the legal aspect of trade union work has received a sizeable boost. Despite its free and public interest nature, their voluntary legal service work has become both highly professional and socially integrated. Trade unions's endeavour in purchasing socio-legal services and integrating the strictly standards-based performance of non-government lawyers into their work has elevated worker legal aid services into a systematic, standard and programmed feature which serves as effective promotion for trade unions's participation in the legislative process.

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  Source: ACFTU  2015-06-03

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